Basic Biographical Information
Niccola Francesco Ippolito Baldassarre Rosellini, better known as Ippolito Rosellini, was an Italian Egyptologist. He is considered the founder of Italian Egyptology. He was born in Pisa on the 13th of August 1800. His parents, Giovan Battista Rosellini and M. Angiola Biagetti, came from the city of Pescia in Tuscany.
Ippolito Rosellini started his studies at the University of Pisa when he was 17 years old. He mainly focused on Theology, Hebrew and Greek. He graduated in 1821, and he was then presented by Professor Bagnoli to the Grand Duke Ferdinand III as the best candidate for the Chair of Oriental Studies, shortly after being accepted to continue his studies in Bologna. Inspired and praised by Professor Giuseppe Mezzofanti, he published his first paper La Fionda di Davide.
After he completed his studies, he went back to Pisa in 1824, and he obtained the Chair of Oriental Literature and Hebrew. In the same year, he had the chance to read Prècis du système hièroglyphique by Jean-François Champollion, and he immediately became passionate about Egyptian studies. In August 1825 Ippolito Rosellini met Champollion in person; the scholar was in Italy to study Egyptian collections such as the one of Drovetti in Turin.
In 1826 Rosellini and Champollion met again; the Egyptologist went back to Italy to study the collection of Egyptian antiques of the British consul Henry Salt which was bought by the French government. The possibility of spending 4 months together in Livorno led to stronger mutual esteem and friendship; in fact Champollion considered Rosellini as his “loyal friend and disciple.” Because of this special connection, Rosellini decided to follow Champollion on his travels and asked to leave the chair at the University of Pisa.
In the same year, the two scholars went to Rome, Naples, and Paris where they continued studying the collections of Salt and Drovetti for 7 months. In this period Rosellini met and married Zenobia, daughter of the Italian composer Luigi Cherubini.
While working together, Champollion and Rosellini started to plan to conduct an expedition to Egypt and Nubia. The French government was not keen on financing this enterprise, so Rosellini submitted the idea to the Grand Duke Leopoldo II. At the end he obtained the approval from both the Grand Duke and Charles X, King of France, together with the necessary funding in 1827. Rosellini was also nominated head of the expedition of the Tuscan group.
The expedition left Toulon on the 31st of July 1828, and it reached Alexandria on the 18th of August. Several areas from the Lower Egypt to Nubia were visited in order to study the main monuments and to copy the texts of numerous inscriptions. The travelers encountered difficulties, especially because of the extreme temperatures of the desert. The mission lasted over a year; Rosellini went back to Pisa in January 1830. As agreed, all the artifacts collected during the expedition were equally divided between France and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany; this is how the Egyptian collections of the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Egyptian Museum in Florence started.
A diary of the French-Tuscan expedition written by Ippolito Rosellini himself was published by Gabrieli in 1925.
In the summer of the year 1831, Rosellini went back to Paris to talk with Champollion about his intention to publish Monumenti dell’Egitto e della Nubia (See Rosellini 1832–1844), and the French scholar gave his consent. Unfortunately, Champollion died prematurely on the 5th of March 1832, and Rosellini had to carry on this project alone. Sadly it was also not possible for Rosellini to have the name of his friend on the publication due to the opposition of Champollion’s brother who looked at the project with suspicion. Eight months later, Rosellini published the first volume of the Monumenti Storici, a publication rich of information that will count three parts for a total of nine volumes in 1841. A tenth volume will be added afterward by Niccolò Capurro in 1844.
During the years 1834–1835, Rosellini taught the first lessons of Egyptian and Coptic languages at the University of Pisa and through this became the founder of Italian Egyptology (See Rosellini 1937). He soon became well known, thanks to his teaching and his written work. His fame reached Richard Lepsius who went to Pisa to become his disciple and to perfect his studies in Egyptian antiquities in 1836. In that same year, Rosellini’s health started to worsen after contracting a severe and incurable form of malaria fever during one of his trips to Egypt.
Ippolito Rosellini died on the 4th of June 1843 in Pisa when he was 42 years old. He was buried at the Camposanto Monumentale where other eminent scholars also rested in peace.
Ippolito Rosellini’s major accomplishments mainly originated from his extensive and profound dedication to Egyptology besides his interest for Hebrew language and Oriental studies in a broader sense. The collaboration with Jean-François Champollion was the most important stimulus for Rosellini, but during his studies, he had already proved to have the necessary qualities in order to become one of the most important pioneers of Egyptology in Italy.
Without doubt Rosellini’s most remarkable achievement was the French-Tuscan expedition in Egypt, led side by side with Champollion in 1828–1829 (see Rosellini 1830). The expedition included people who drew the artifacts, botanists, architects, and workers. Their journey started in Alexandria and went through some of the most important destinations on the way to Nubia: Sais (San el-Hagar), Cairo, Menfi (Mit Rahina), Saqqara, Giza, Beni Hasan, Dendera, Tebe (Luxor), Esna, Edfu, Kôm Ombo, Philae, Abu Simbel, and Kalabsha. A large number of artifacts were found, and it produced countless notes, drawings, and transcriptions. Unfortunately, numerous grave goods had to be torn apart in the intent of equally diving the findings between the two sponsors of the expedition. For example, the bas-relief of the pillar from the tomb of Seti I had to be divided in two parts (See Rosellini 1926); one part is now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Florence and the other is at the Louvre in Paris. Rosellini brought around 2000 artifacts back from the expedition in Egypt.
Once he came back from the expedition, Rosellini founded the first Chair of Egyptology in Italy, and on the same year, he started to work with his colleague and friend Champollion at I monumenti dell’Egitto e della Nubia. In 1830 he organized an exhibition at the Accademia di Arti e Mestieri of Santa Caterina in Firenze to show the Egyptian artifacts to the public. Rosellini continued his studies by publishing his project through over nine volumes; due to his poor health, he couldn’t complete the revision of the tenth volume, the last. The tenth volume was published in 1844. From 1835 to 1843, he became director of the University library of Pisa and professor of Philology, Literature, and Eastern Archaeology.
After his death, his numerous books were donated to the library of the University of Pisa. In 1879, a few days after his death, his wife Zenobia Cherubini made the first donation following the instructions given by Rosellini himself. She donated other books in 1879, and their son, Giovan Battista Rosellini, made a last donation in 1879.
- Rosellini, I. 1830. Breve notizia degli oggetti di antichità egiziane riportate dalla Spedizione letteraria toscana in Egitto e nella Nubia, eseguita negli anni 1828–29 ed esposti al pubblico nell’Accademia delle arti e mestieri in S. Caterina, ed. Stamperia Piatti, Firenze.Google Scholar
- Rosellini, I. 1832–1844. I Monumenti dell’Egitto e della Nubia, disegnati dalla spedizione scientifico-letteraria Toscana in Egitto: distribuiti in ordine di materie, interpretati ed illustrati, ed. Niccolò Capurro e C., Pisa.Google Scholar
- Rosellini, I. 1926. Di un bassorilievo egiziano della imp. e r. Galleria di Firenze, ed. Stamperia Piatti, Firenze.Google Scholar
- Rosellini, I. 1937. Elementa Linguae Aegyptiacae, vulgo Copticae, ed. Typographia Collegii Urbani sumptibus Francisci Archini, RomeGoogle Scholar
- Bardelli, G. 1843. Biografia del professore Ippolito Rosellini scritta dal suo discepolo e amico. Firenze, Dalla Tipografia Piatti.Google Scholar